Statement by Senator Patrick Leahy On Ending the Scourge of Landmines in Mozambique

Mr. President, last week marked an important milestone in the campaign to rid the world of anti-personnel landmines.  On September 17th Mozambique, where two decades ago an estimated 200,000 unexploded landmines were left over from a brutal 15-year civil war, became the first country with large-scale mine contamination to have all known minefields cleared.  While accidents due to unknown mines and other unexploded ordnance in Mozambique will occasionally occur in the future as they still do in Europe 70 years after World War II, the number is a tiny fraction of what it once, was and it will continue to decline. 

The State Department recognized this milestone in a statement, which included the following: 

            “Since 1993, when Mozambique emerged from decades of conflict as one of the world’s most landmine-affected nations, the United States has been proud to partner with the people of Mozambique, investing more than $55 million toward improving the safety and    security of local communities though the U.S. Conventional Weapons Destruction program.

            “Through that partnership -- which includes the international donor community and humanitarian demining organizations -- we have worked diligently to safely clear landmines and unexploded ordnance, prevent injuries through community outreach and education, and provide medical and social services to survivors of accidents involving these legacies of past conflicts.”

I have spoken many times in this chamber about these indiscriminate weapons, which are triggered by the victim, whether a soldier or an unsuspecting child.  They linger for days, weeks, years, and even decades after armed conflicts end.  They destroy lives as well as livelihoods, making fields unworkable and roads impassable, crippling the economies of already impoverished communities.  In recent years the United States has made important contributions to the worldwide eradication of landmines and I have long supported funding for the State Department’s humanitarian demining programs and for assistance for mine victims through the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Leahy War Victims Fund, but the job is far from done.

The painstaking work of HALO Trust and other dedicated organizations and individuals in Mozambique demonstrates what is possible.  We used the Leahy War Victims Fund there, starting back in 1989, to provide artificial limbs, wheelchairs, and rehabilitation for victims of mines.  Melissa Wells, our outstanding Ambassador to Mozambique at the time, was a strong supporter of that program.  Thousands of people have regained their mobility as a result.  My wife, Marcelle, a registered nurse, traveled to Mozambique and visited some of them more than two decades ago.  With this declaration, Mozambicans can live with far less fear of being maimed or killed while working in their fields, walking to school, or just stepping outside of their homes.  

This is a time to commend the people and government of Mozambique and the courageous deminers, as well as those who have helped the victims of mines rebuild their lives.  But as one who has worked to stop the use of landmines ever since my legislation to halt U.S. exports of these weapons was first enacted back in 1992, I must emphasize that landmines continue to threaten innocent people in many other countries. 

We have come a long way since 1994 when President Clinton, in a speech to the United Nations General Assembly, called on all countries to rid the world of landmines.  But we have not yet achieved that goal, and we should rededicate ourselves to eliminating this scourge from the Earth.  The best way for the United States to do that is to join the 162 signatories to the Ottawa Treaty banning the production, use, export and stockpiling of anti-personnel landmines. 

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